Ah, the good old days.
Well, not really. I’m talking about not too long ago – maybe just 10 or 15 years – when if you wanted information from an old (and often rare) regimental history, reminiscence book by a veteran, etc., you had to get a copy of an original tucked away at some repository somewhere.
Over the years, of course, I got copies of pages of every cavalry unit regimental and such that existed. All of which led to the mountains of papers, files, and binders that still clog my library. I spent many trips to the library at Carlisle Barracks, for instance, rummaging the stacks and running every one of those old books through the copy machine, plunking in my quarters like a video game addict in front of the latest machine. When I got home, I would carefully put the copies of each book into a binder, with a prominent sticker on each spine so that I could readily identify each binder on the shelf.
And I could tell you how much I had invested in each one. For instance, a copy of a 400 page book would be $100 in quarters (whew!) for the copies, plus a few bucks for the binder, and by the time you figure in the gasoline, hotel room, meals, etc., you might have $125 or more in each one. (Just don’t tell my wife that – she would count the number of binders in my library, multiply them by that figure, and then… well… kill me.)
But over the last few years, several publishing companies have made successful enterprises by producing reprints of those old Civil War books. There are many small ones (and some more famous books have been reprinted many times in many versions) but a couple of the larger publishers are the Higginson Book Company and Morningside Book Shop. Just take a look at their websites and their offerings. Also, Jim McClean’s Butternut&Blue has done some great reprints, along with Dave Zullo’s Olde Soldier Books. If you search online long enough, you’re liable to come up with a reprint of that old regimental or soldier reminiscence you’ve been looking for. If it’s not available yet, you may not have to wait long. Many of the publishers will print these books on demand, limiting their inventory (but which drives the price up a tad). However, considering how much you might invest in getting your hands on a xerox copy of a rare original (see comment above regarding what to not tell my wife), spending $30 or even $60 on a reprint is comparatively cheap.
Over the years, I’ve bought some original cavalry regimentals when available and when I could afford it. Some I got really great deals on. For instance, I own two copies of the original regimental of the 9th New York Cavalry that I bought in a little bookshop in upstate NY. I think each one cost me about $20, and they worth nearly $400 each. One, in fact, was owned by, and is signed by, a member of the regiment. One of my proudest possessions is a pristine copy of the large regimental of the 6th New York Cavalry. I own originals of the 2-volume Pennsylvania at Gettysburg (also in reprint now) that were owned by, and are signed by, the then Speaker of PA’s House of Representatives. (I refuse to tell my wife what those cost me!) In a couple of these cases, I’ve purchased reprints of original regimentals I own, so that I could use the reprints for research – thus saving wear and tear on the originals.
But what the reprints have done is helped to clean up my library. Instead of so many binders full of copies of books, and file folders stuffed with the paper copies, the reprints have allowed me to shelve them just like any other book. It’s much easier to use the reprints now, and they’re much easier to identify. I own the reprint, original, or copy of every single cavalry regimental ever published for a cavalry unit in the Eastern Theater, and many of the western ones. Plus, every single book written by a cavalry veteran that I’m aware of, plus copies of their pamphlets, published papers, speeches, etc. This in addition, of course, to the room full of papers, books, and other related items that make up a researcher’s library. Many parts of it are disorganized, and I’ll probably spend the rest of my life trying to make some order out of it (and never get there anyway).
But thank goodness for the reprints. I can now look at shelves full of them, and think back to the days when I had to carefully make copies of the old originals (or pay someone else to do it) and how much money and time I had invested in each one. But when I’ve purchased a reprint, I find it hard to dispose of the corresponding binder containing a copy of the same book due to that investment.
Anyone want to pay $125 for a copy of a book? Nicely bound? With a real nice sticker on it?